Egypt Discussion Paper, by EU Council Presidency

February 21st, 2022 - written by:

We have received a Discussion Paper by Presidency of EU council, to be discussed with delegations on February 25. In the meeting, delegations will be invited to define priority guidelines for improving this cooperation, with a view to an Action Plan for Egypt which the Commission and the EEAS could produce at the request of the Council. The Presidency suggests that Egypt be identified as an additional priority country for an action plan.

The document describes the situation in Egypt als follows:

Egypt is a major country of arrival for many populations fleeing regional crises. This trend, which has been marked since 2013, could become even more pronounced in view of the worsening instability and, in particular, the ongoing deterioration of the situation in Ethiopia. The country is indeed a pole of political stability and attractiveness, particularly in terms of employment and the labour market, which is particularly important in the region. According to the IOM, 6.3 million foreign nationals are present on Egyptian territory, including more than 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR. Half of these are Sudanese nationals, some of whom have been present for several generations, but there are also Syrians (800,000 to 900,000, of whom nearly 140,000 are registered with the UNHCR-Egypt, making them the leading nationality), Libyans (700,000 to 900,000), Yemenis (500,000 to 1 million) as well as Iraqis, Ethiopians, Somalis, Filipinos and Nigerians. They are mainly settled in Cairo and its periphery (Qalyubia, Giza), as well as in Alexandria. Although refugees and asylum seekers (38% of whom are minors) have the same rights as Egyptians, in reality they have difficulty accessing basic services and are particularly exposed to socio-economic risks (84% of refugees and asylum seekers live below the poverty line; around 30% of the Egyptian population) but also, for the most vulnerable among them, to human trafficking and numerous forms of smuggling. This situation has worsened in the context of the health crisis, which has led the Egyptian authorities to impose partial confinement since 2020.

The document then describes Egypt as a country of transit, but also of origin:

While the majority of foreign nationals present in Egypt remain there, some also reach Libya by taking advantage of the multiple land links between the two countries. The particularly close surveillance carried out by Egyptian forces at the Libyan border leads them to resort to smuggling networks. Egypt has been strongly committed to the fight against this phenomenon for several years [...]
The Egyptian authorities regularly highlight the efforts made in terms of border management and control, outside of any transactional logic, in order to control irregular flows and prevent any mass movement to the EU.
On the other hand, the year 2021 was marked by a strong resurgence of flows of Egyptian nationals, mainly from the Libyan coast to Italy: according to the ISAA reports, they are among the three main nationalities that increased the most during the year 2021 and are now among the top 10 nationalities (8th place) irregularly crossing the EU's external borders, all entry routes taken together. They represent the second most important nationality of arrivals on the Italian coast (8 352 arrivals; 12.4% of the total number of arrivals in Italy), an increase of 560% compared to 2020 (1 264 arrivals). This dynamic seems to continue in the first month of 2022 (405 arrivals in January 2022, 2nd nationality of arrivals). The Egyptian authorities claim that the nationals concerned had been established for several years in Libya, and that it is therefore not a question of flows coming directly from Egypt. However, according to the IOM, while this phenomenon initially affected seasonal Egyptian workers working in Libya, more and more young people from urban areas of Egypt who have jobs are trying to reach the EU via Libyan territory. Moreover, departures from Libyan shores are not the only ones revived: in 2021, the number of Egyptian nationals who reached Italy from Turkish coasts almost reaches the total number of arrivals in Italy in 2020 (1,112, in the context of a 209% increase on this route).

The document mentions the economic hardships which people in Egypt have to bear:

While Egypt enjoys relatively dynamic economic growth compared to its neighbours, the labour market is unable to compensate for the very high demographic growth (100 million inhabitants in 2020) and poverty continues to worsen, widening the gap between the different strata of the population (29.7% of Egyptians are expected to be living below the poverty line in 2019/2020 - set at around $1.7 per day by the authorities - compared to 16.7% twenty years earlier).

Since 2017, there has been a high-level migration dialogue between Egypt and EU, and the cooperation is described as "excellent dynamics". The document states,

Egypt's expectations [...] mainly concern the strengthening of support programmes implemented in the regions of departure, particularly in the field of employment and training, student mobility, support in the field of border management capacity and assistance to host communities. The Egyptian authorities have also presented a list of border management equipment to the European Commission in July 2021, which was to be technically discussed following the above-mentioned visit of Commissioner Johansson, and are awaiting a return.
The migration dialogue with Egypt also has a regional dimension insofar as, as an active and stable member of the Steering Committee of the Khartoum Process, the country is mobilised for cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination along the migratory route between the Horn of Africa and the EU.
Finally, Egypt is a key partner of the EU in North Africa and plays a leading role at regional level in the field of migration, which could be further strengthened in view of the particularly worrying situation in several countries in the region.

The paper suggests the intensification of EU-Europe cooperation, following three axes:

  • Strengthening Egyptian capacities in migration management,
  • Enhanced cooperation on return and readmission, including voluntary return and reintegration and
  • Accompanying legal student, professional and talent migration.

Please find the paper here